CASTINE — As it seems to every year, the first weekend in August has arrived suddenly, unbidden and unexpected, and crowded with events that celebrate classic sailing yachts.
This afternoon, the waterfront in Castine will be crowded with boats gathered for the Thursday morning start of the 19th annual Castine Classic Yacht Race.
That race kicks off a weekend of classic sailing events that includes the Camden Classic Yacht Regatta on Friday and is capped by the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta on Saturday.
Kicking off the weekend this afternoon, the Castine Yacht Club is once again hosting a celebration of classic yachts.
This year’s event features some of the world-class sailboat builders that call eastern Maine home, including Brooklin Boat Yard, Rockport Marine, Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding, Artisan Boatworks, Gannon and Benjamin and French & Webb, and will include an exhibition of their boats at the town dock.
At 4 p.m., America’s Cup sailor and broadcast commentator Gary Jobson will chair a symposium at Maine Maritime Academy’s Delano Hall. Scheduled panelists include Todd French of French & Webb, yacht designers Bruce Johnson and Bob Stephens of Stephens Waring Yacht Design, Eric Blake of Brooklin Boat Yard, Nat Benjamin of Gannon and Benjamin, Sam Temple of Rockport Marine and a representative from Lyman-Morse.
Marine photographer Alison Langley will screen some of her film on the building of Anna and the restoration of Marilee.
At noon on Thursday, some 40 wooden sailing yachts, each towing a dinghy as required by the rules, will cross the starting line for the Castine Classic Race off the Castine Harbor bell buoy and sail a 19.6-mile course down Penobscot Bay, around Robinson Rock south of Islesboro, with a finish off Curtis Island at the mouth of Camden Harbor.
Last year, 13-boat Classic A class, generally for the largest and oldest boats, featured five 45-foot New York 32 sloops designed by Sparkman & Stephens and built in 1936 for members of the New York Yacht Club.
On Friday, much of the fleet, joined by other boats that did not race in the Castine event, will race to Brooklin in the final tune-up for Saturday’s Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, which is being sponsored jointly by Brooklin Boat Yard and Rockport Marine.
More than 90 classic wooden sailboats took part in last year’s Eggemoggin Reach Regatta in what proved to be an excellent race despite a start delayed by an abundance of fog and utter lack of breeze at the starting line.
This year, the weather gods are threatening morning showers, afternoon and a light southwest breeze throughout Saturday. If the weather cooperates, though, another big fleet will likely be on hand to sail in the 34th edition of the regatta, which is considered by many to be the top event on the summer classic wooden sailboat racing season.
The Eggemoggin Reach Regatta got its start in 1985 when Brooklin Boat Yard owner Steve White and his colleague Frank Hull thought it would be fun to hold a race for wooden sailboats. On the appointed day, 13 showed up. Now, entries are officially capped at 125, and the entry list is usually full.
For most of the past 33 years, the regatta was sailed over a 15-mile course — the same one that will be used this weekend — starting off Torrey Island in the reach, then heading out into Jericho Bay, around Egg Rock and the Halibut Rocks, and finishing between Babson Island and Naskeag Point off the WoodenBoat School waterfront.
It its early days, though, when WoodenBoat magazine ran the event, the ERR was a bit more peripatetic.
In 1995, the ERR was actually held entirely on Eggemoggin Reach with the fleet racing westward under the Deer Isle Bridge toward Pumpkin Island at the western end of the reach before turning back and finishing off WoodenBoat, the opposite direction from the course sailed in prior years, and now.
In 1996 and 1997, the ERR sailed out of the Dark Harbor Boat Yard on 700 Acre Island off Islesboro. Both events drew relatively small fleets. After the regatta returned to its eponymous home in 1998, the race quickly grew to 125 boats.
On Saturday, the fleet of wooden sailboats will be divided among eight classes and, weather permitting, the first three — Vintage A, Classic A and Spirit of Tradition A — will get underway at 11 a.m. The last group, Spirit of Tradition B, will start at 11:40.
The Spirit of Tradition class includes modern boats that combine contemporary performance and construction methods with aesthetics that reflect classic yachts from an earlier era.